The life and tribulations of the Danish Baroness Karen Blixen who ran a coffee plantation in Kenya and survived a bore of a husband, a drifty lover, schooling the natives, war and a bout of VD.
Interestingly, the role for which she is most famed, determined Baroness Blixen, did not grant Meryl Streep an Oscar. It just seems like it did, especially as Sydney Pollack’s sturdy but turgid epic soaked up all the major Oscar categories apart from the acting categories. So naturally, it’s got plenty of glorious vistas, and the screenplays dutifully takes Blixen’s memoirs at their word, but this is more Thorn Birds than Lawrence Of Arabia. It’s got its effective barbs, what with all that Streep-strung heartache, but always feels to take shape against the landscape.
After Redford’s laconic hunter has dropped by with his sexy bi-plane, and washed his leading lady’s hair, who then has to see off a lion and venereal disease, we’re less swept away than spiritually absent. There’s a creeping ache in the umpteenth shot of the rolling Ngogo Hills, and the perfect twang of Streep’s Danish accent, the film is so preened and self-satisfied. Blixen is not an inviting character, she’s admirably dignified but remote. Redford is as rugged as the landscape, and as lumpy and distant. Actually, the best performance comes from Klaus Maria Brandauer who stomps in like a bear aiming to wake everybody up on set.
Just as the film captures a world (Imperialism, hunting, colonialism) that has faded away, so this film feels like one of the last of it’s kind. How long before a black person in a film taking Africa as its subject gets to play something other than a savage or a slave?
Reviewed by Ian Nathan